For two decades the leaders of America's universities and colleges have sought relief from the growing costs of providing access to an ever-expanding volume of scholarly output. What they have learned is that, however straightforward the problem appears, the path to resolution has come to resemble nothing so much as a rumba: two steps forward, three steps back, one to the side, twirl, and repeat.
-- Policy Perspectives, Pew Higher Education Roundtable, 1998.
Providing the full range of research materials required by faculty and students continues to be a serious problem for research universities. The long-term solution lies in finding affordable means of acquiring research materials. Electronic access and consortia for sharing materials can reduce library costs while increasing access for scholars and students. This shared approach alone, however, will not yield affordability if the copyrights for academic publications continue to be controlled by the commercial sector. For example, any savings from a change to electronic access can be defeated by the costs of licensing agreements to use those on-line materials.
In fact, the situation is even worse than that. Universities pay faculty members, in part, to push forward the frontiers of knowledge. This new knowledge is disseminated through publication. When faculty members publish articles, they give away the copyright to the journal. Then, university libraries buy these journals back from the publishers, providing them with handsome profits. (Indeed, if a faculty member wants to use his or her own research results, even in a course or in another publication, a fee is often charged by the publisher.) So, universities are paying for these materials more than once.
Lately, there has been good creative thinking about means to control the prices for research and scholarly publications while increasing access. Two of the best ideas to emerge are to retain some of the copyrights within the university community and to decouple the certification process (peer review) from publication. These approaches are complementary. Decoupling means that peer review would be undertaken by, for example, faculty members organized through disciplinary professional societies and not the journals themselves. Peer reviewed articles then could be posted electronically or in journal publications, though through non-commercial outlets. Peer review of research results is necessary for faculty evaluation, for instance, in the promotion and tenure process; and this approach leaves intact that review process.
Both the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the American Research Libraries (ARL) have taken a leadership position in attempting to deal with these issues. I chaired a joint AAU/ARL task force that issued a report in 1994 advocating a national strategy for managing scientific and technological information. Recently, AAU and others have endorsed ARL’s concept of a Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) that seeks to provide faculty with prestigious and responsive alternatives to current commercial publishing vehicles.
The best recent summary known to me of the issues before us in the area of scholarly communication is contained in the "Policy Perspectives," published by the Pew Higher Education Roundtable. Membership in the roundtable included high level representatives from universities, scholarly associations, libraries, and University presses.
To develop a comprehensive approach to the issues surrounding scholarly communication, I have asked Suzanne Thorin and Gary Hieftje to lead a faculty committee that will review the current situation, look at national efforts to change the environment, and plan a course of action to be undertaken at this university.
The Pew report ends with recommendations in five areas, which may provide a focus for the committee to consider as it seeks actions we might take locally and identifies contributions we might make to the national discussions now underway. It is clear to me that Indiana University should be in a leadership position in addressing these important issues, and I charge this group with developing a framework for action.
President of Indiana University